The Great Molasses Flood: Boston 1919
written by Deborah Kops
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
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On January 15, 1919, a molasses truck at 529 Commercial Street exploded under pressure, killing 21 people. A 40-foot wave of molasses buckled the elevated railroad tracks, crushed buildings and inundated the neighborhood.
- Commemorative plaque on Commercial Street in Boston
It was an unusually warm day in January 1919. Workers were eating lunch while housewives were hanging laundry and children were playing. Standing out among the buildings on Commercial Street was a tank that held over 2.3 million gallons of molasses. Owned by the U.S. Industrial Alcohol Company (USIA), this tank held the equivalent weight of 13,000 Fords. The molasses was going to be converted into rum. This needed to be done quickly as the 18th amendment was about to be ratified and Prohibition would rule the land. Laws banning alcoholic drinks would go into effect a year after ratification. In Chapter 1, you are introduced to many people who are going to be affected by the explosion of the tank. There is nothing abnormal about this day, but that is about to change. Between 12:30 and 12:40 p.m., the tank gave way and a wave of molasses came crashing down upon the buildings and other structures on the north end of Commercial Street. Deborah Kops presents the personal stories that make history come alive for children. You feel the heartache of nine year old Antonio DiStasio who, along with his older sister Maria and two friends, was trying to get a taste of the excess molasses that came from the tank. Antonio ended up losing his sister and one of his friends in this tragedy. Along with the personal stories, there is a mystery element to this narrative. How did the tank explode and how will acting judge Hugh Ogden rule in the civil case brought by the victims against USIA? You keep reading as the case unwinds because you want answers to these questions and that is what a good nonfiction read will accomplish. Two other features in The Great Molasses Flood enhance the reader's knowledge. Sepia toned photographs give you a sense of the setting and how the flood unfolded. Kops also added sections in several chapters to provide background knowledge for the reader. We learn about the anarchist movement of the early 20th century which could be connected to the issues of terrorism that are prevalent today. Other topics include women's suffrage and historical figures of the day.
The Great Molasses Flood would make for an interesting contrast to the Titanic tragedy of 1912. How were these two tragedies similar? Do we have similar tragedies today that are caused by human error? This is a fascinating account that will enliven your instruction of early 20th century history.
You should see this terrific fermentation activity at Growing With Science that is linked to the review at Wrapped in Foil.